Nearly 70% of employees believe that appearance is the deciding factor in the hiring process

In defiance of all the noise, there’s a nice healthy seethe of “iscims”  still permeating the workforce. For the most part, these are both easy to identify and plainly addressed. What casual commentary calls  “lookicism” on the other hand, stands as an ethical outlier. For one thing, I’d have to imagine that even the most behavioral amongst us that find themselves in the favor of beauty biases face some difficulty honestly surveying it for what it is. The provisional casing that holds in all of our squishy meat staffs our impression of worth like no other. A compliment paid to the flesh has a lot of power irrespective of how it’s articulated, irrespective of its cost. This evolutionary holdover sticks out like a sore appendix in a professional context, especially in 2019-a year that made an honest go at booting an age of meritocracy. 

According to a new survey of about 1,000 working Americans, superficial discrimination thrives in the corporate ecosystem, despite our purported censure of it.

In the hands of the beholder

A little while back Ladders covered a massive academic paper that determined that, on balance, traditionally good looking people earn about 12% more annually than bag-heads in virtually every field.  In psychology, an edge achieved by reason of a person’s physical appearance is referred to as the “beauty premium.” Economically, the phenomenon racks both sides of the velvet rope. For those on the outside, the setback is clear enough. For the privileged few, every stride forward is weighed down by a virulent asterisk; a copper halo. After a while, aptitude becomes lost in a sea of specious metrics.

The new study conducted by Univia,  began with a poll of 997 employed adults. Five hundred and sixty-two of which identified as female, and 435 identified as male. The range of ages surveyed spanned from 18 to 74 years old with a median age of 37 and a standard deviation of 16. Atypically, the self-reporting nature that animated the new paper was more of an essential fiber as opposed to a limitation, given the authors quested to gauge workplace perceptions. After all, the sting of appearance prejudices survives on subtlety.

Two in three respondents believe that they should be judged by the quality of their performance though the vast majority (67%) believe that appearance carries much more weight during the hiring processes. Sixty-eight percent of employees are confident that looks even elevate one’s chances of getting a raise and a promotion once already employed at a firm. Unsurprisingly, women were more likely to express appearance-based discrimination at work compared to me.  The authors add, “The pressure to change appearance was rampant, as the majority – 65% – of employees had worn nicer work attire to fit into their workplace. Fifty-three percent also wore nicer shoes, and 48% got a haircut to accommodate workplace culture. But judgments and corresponding appearance changes got pickier than that: 39% had to choose a new hairstyle completely, 37% started to wear makeup, and 34% tried to improve the way their skin looked,”

It might surprise you to learn than men felt fractionally more pressure to lose weight to improve their economic standing at work compared to women (23% vs. 21 repetitively), but the rest of the data was consistent with conventional wisdom. Women were three times more likely to have difficulty finding suitable attire for work, in addition to fearing that clothes that made them feel comfortable would be viewed as unprofessional.



Many of the employees surveyed that admitted to being willfully influenced by the appearance of their colleagues defended the thought process by saying a person that is well put together is more likely to convey a sense of confidence and authority.  Seventy-five percent of the survey pool felt this way in fact, with an additional three-fourths adding that a person’s looks also affects their perceptions of an individual’s degree of competency. This stands to reason considering age proved to be the most influential predictor of employee reception (60%). This was followed by weight (58%), tattoos (57%), piercings (52%) and gender (48%).

The authors conclude, “Professionalism with regard to workplace attire, however, may be a non-negotiable for certain offices, and perhaps rightfully so. And with data revealing that lengthy morning routines correspond with increased productivity, it might be worth taking a second look at how you choose to wake up and present yourself to the world. Are you choosing behaviors, clothing, and self-care practices that best prepare you for a successful day at work? No matter what you choose to wear, make sure to put your best face forward.”